The Deathworlders – Chapter 56: Dataquake Part 4

Date Point: 16y3m1w
Folctha, Cimbrean, the Far Reaches

Ramsey Buehler

Ramsey didn’t think he’d ever get used to being one of the cool kids at school.

Actually, just going to school was kinda weird after all the home schooling he and Tristan had had back on Earth, but whenever he and his brother had got to go out and do stuff with other kids, they’d always found themselves alone on the edge of the room, not knowing what to say, how to play, where to go or what to do…

Folctha was different. It was a lot better! There’d been one kid who’d tried to pick on Tristan, and Tristan had done what Da— …what Julian advised: He’d fought back. That had been a blur of grappling and kicking and scrapping with no clear winner, because one of the teachers had darted in to break it up.

He’d had to sit outside the school office for a while, but Allison came in and spoke with the principal. She’d been wearing her Badass Glasses, too, in full Scary Allison mode. It was glorious.

So, there’d been no punishment for Tristan, and the kid who’d tried to pick on him stopped trying. And after that, the brothers had been…one of the kids used the word ‘sound.’ It felt good.

Mom, of course, had found out. And she absolutely did not approve of her boys ‘fighting like hooligans.’ So there’d been another argument between her and Allison, defused by Xiù, and a compromise offered by Julian.

So, Mom was picking them up from school today. Which actually added to their reputation a bit anyway, ‘cuz Mom actually had her own car. Not a lot of people in Folctha owned cars—they were super expensive to bring through the Array and between the buses and those cool little self-driving cabs there wasn’t a whole lot of point to owning your own car—but there was a second-hand dealer in town anyway, and Mom had got one as soon as she could afford it.

It wasn’t a great car but it was her own personal one, and that was rare enough to instantly make the twins a little cooler. Ramsey didn’t really care. He’d have preferred to walk home, or jog if Julian came to fetch them, or maybe go ‘round Bryony’s house and play videogames for a bit…

But no, they were riding with Mom today. And something was going on with Mom. She kept trying to break the ice.

“So…how was school?”

“It was school.” Tristan shrugged.

“DId you, uh…learn anything?”

“I guess.”

“Sparring was fun!” Ramsey ventured.

Mom had that polite tone of voice for when she didn’t approve of something but wasn’t going to say as much. She’d never approved of letting the boys do any sports before. Allison had been on the swim team in school, and she said Mom probably blamed sports for the way things had gone between them. That sounded about right to Ramsey, Mom could be really weird sometimes.

The brothers had finally decided to stand up to her on that one. Tristan turned out to be good at running and picking himself up when he got knocked down and ignoring his little scrapes and cuts, so he was on the soccer team now, and Ramsey had tried judo and stuff after talking about it with some of Julian’s military friends and he’d found it was so much fun it’d be just torture to not get to do it properly…

Mom hadn’t put up much of a fight in the end, once she saw how much they meant it.

“Oh. Well…that’s nice,” she said.

Awkward silence fell. Ramsey looked out the window and honestly couldn’t tell where she was going. She wasn’t driving toward her place on Delaney Row, nor Allison’s place in Lakeside. She was heading into the center. Were they going shopping?

“…where are we going, Mom?” he asked.

She smiled nervously at him in the mirror. “…I was thinking…Uh…How about…how about tacos? It’s Tuesday!”

Ramsey and Tristan blinked at each other. Something was definitely going on with Mom, she never took them out for dinner. At least, not when they were straight out of school and he was still a little gross from wrestling practice. She’d have taken them home and got them cleaned up first. And it would’ve been somewhere fancy. Not tacos.

“…Is…everything alright, Mom?” Tristan ventured.

“Why can’t I just take you out for once?”

“‘Cuz you never do.”

Mom hesitated. “…Well…things change.”

“…Uh…well…I mean…” Ramsey thought about it for a second, looked across at his brother, and they shrugged. “…Yeah. That would be nice!”

“Okay.” She gave him a little tense smile in the mirror.

Something was up for sure, but true to her word she parked outside Ninja Taco and treated them to a Shinobi Trio. Ramsey liked chicken (‘cuz it didn’t upset his stomach) while Tristan preferred spicy beef. Neither of them even considered the Pouncing Cub Combo for Gaoians: nava paste and crab with naxas tripe!

Julian ate them, though. He’d eat anything as long as there was a lot of it. Tripe, though? Ew.

Their mom went for the veggie option and more kinda…played with it. She looked like she had something big on her mind and didn’t know how to start..

Tristan got fed up with her awkwardness first.

“…Mom…what’s wrong?”

She jumped a little, startled out of wherever she’d gone in her head, and then sighed heavily, dug around in her purse, and put a letter on the table.

“…I, uh…These are divorce papers,” she said. “I got them this morning. I’m…I just…I mean, I’m living on a different planet to your father now, and we haven’t really said anything kind to each other in…”

She trailed off.

Ramsey put his taco down, wiped his fingers clean and decided to channel some Allison. “Mom…Sorry for the bad language, but it’s about damn time.”

Amazingly, she laughed. Kind of a shocked laugh with a shake of her head, but that was a lot better than she’d usually have given him for talking like that.

“I need to have another talk with Allison about how she speaks around you two…” she muttered, then shook her head. “Or the school.”

“Sometimes it’s appropriate,” Ramsey said and picked up his taco again.

“You should have done it a long time ago,” Tristan said.

“Did you want me to?”

The brothers spoke as one. “Yes.”


There was a minute or two of silence as they ate. Eventually, Mom picked up her taco and ate it too, daintily. She washed it down with an iced tea and then put the envelope back in her purse.

“…I worry about you two,” she said. “About.. The future, and who you’ll turn out to be, and about how things went with your sister, and…a lot of things. I don’t even really know who you want to be when you’re all grown up, or what you want to do, or…I always thought…I was always told that you need a stable home to raise your kids right. A mother and a father. That’s why I stayed with him.”

“…I like Julian. He knows how to be a man. And he doesn’t hate us.”

“…Yeah. Allison told me you called him ‘Dad.’ That was…” she glanced at her purse and shook her head.

“I didn’t mean to!”

“Sweetie…I don’t blame you. I don’t blame you at all. He’s been more of a daddy to you than Jacob ever was, and…And I should have seen it a long time ago.”

She subsided into her seat, grabbed a pack of tissues out of her purse and blew her nose. “…Do you want ice cream?”

Tristan agreed immediately. Ramsey, though, was becoming wary of sweets. “…Maybe a little.”

She nodded, put on her talking-to-strangers polite face and stood up. They watched her go, and as soon as she was out of earshot, Tristan leaned over to whisper.

“What the hell?” he asked.

“I know!”

“This is weird, right? She’s acting weird.”

“Well…she always sucked at this stuff.” Ramsey glanced over at the line at the counter. Ninja Taco was always busy, so they had a couple-few minutes before she came back with the ice cream. “Do you think she was talking to Al? Or Xiù? Or Julian?”

“Nnno…” Tristan said, thoughtfully. “I mean, they’d have said.”

“I wish they were here right now.”

“He can’t, he’s on monkey planet with Vemik.”

“Al? Xiù?”

“…I’ll text them.”

Tristan plucked his phone out of his pocket. Annoyingly, they still had junior locks on them so they were only good for calls and messages. No social media, almost no Internet or infosphere access, no games. It was the one area where they completely agreed with Mom.

Lame. Whatever. Tristan’s thumbs became a quick furtive blur under the table while Ramsey kept watch.

Mom got back with the ice cream at about the same time as the phone pinged. “Who’s that?” she asked as she sat down.

“Just Xiù. Checking up on us.”

Mom smiled fondly. “She’s a sweetheart.”

“Look…Mom…” Ramsey thought for a second. “…I dunno what you think we’re gonna think. But we’re glad to be here. Things are better for us here, you know? I meant it when I said it’s about time you and Father broke up. And if we never see him again, that’s just fine by us.”

Mom pulled a face. She looked like she didn’t know what to feel, really. Mostly she looked like she was trying not to cry.

“That’s…not a nice thing to say about your father, Ramsey.”

“Julian loves us. Father never did. It’s…Isn’t it really that simple? D’you think Father loves you?”

Mom sighed heavily and looked down at her ice cream. She’d got herself the biggest one they did, and loaded it with marshmallows and chocolate too. “…No. Not really,” she admitted. “I think he married me and had a family just for the sake of his own reputation. Allison said she always felt like she was just a trophy to him…”

“Yeah,” Ramsey agreed.

“Uh-huh.” Tristan nodded.

She looked deeply sad at that, then sighed, ate a spoonful of her ice cream, and pulled the papers from her purse. The twins watched in silence as she read them thoroughly, then signed her name.

“…There,” she murmured once she’d put the final flourish on her signature.

“That’s it then?”

“Oh! No. No, there’s…an awful lot to do before it’s actually finished. This is just the agreement to begin the divorce. There’ll be lawyers and legal proceedings and we’ll have to go through the whole issue of custody again…” She folded the paperwork back into its envelope. Tristan showed Ramsey the phone while she was distracted with putting it back in her purse.

The message from Xiù read: Give her a hug. She’s trying her best.

Well…Xiù usually gave good advice. With a sigh, they stood up, rounded the table, sat next to Mom and…well, their tentative attempt at a hug seemed to break the dam. She grabbed them both, pulled them close and kissed the tops of their heads.

“…I’m sorry,” she said, after a minute.

“For what?”

“For…I’m not good at this. At any of this. I want to be a good Mom, but…” She let them go and scrubbed her eyes dry. “…You should finish your ice cream before it melts.”

They did just that.

Things weren’t exactly more relaxed after that but it felt to Ramsey like they’d made a step forward together. She drove them back home and listened politely as Tristan explained how Folctha’s three schools managed to have a soccer league between them and how they were going to have a Folctha-vs-Franklin tournament in a few months…

Still. Progress or no progress it was good to get home and find some breathing room. Al was waiting for them, and gave them a welcome-home hug once their shoes were off.

“So. Finally happened, huh?”

“Yeah.” Tristan said.

“About damn time,” Ramsey repeated himself.

Al smiled. “Yeah, no kidding. Brace yourself though: Divorces aren’t easy. This is gonna be long and hard.”

Xiù giggled. “As the bishop said to the actress!”

She fled as Allison aimed an indignant swat in her direction.

“Bad girl!” Al looked like she was trying not to laugh though. “…Go get cleaned up, boys. Julian is coming back in a few hours and we’re going out for dinner.”

“We already had tacos,” Tristan explained. “And ice cream!”

“…Oh. Well. I guess there goes my excuse to dress him up, then.”

“Why do you need an excuse?” Ramsey asked.

“Because he’ll happily live in gym shorts if I let him?”

“No, I mean why not just go on a date? We won’t burn the house down.”

Xiù nodded. “He’s got a point! I trust them.”

“Besides,” Tristan added. “He needs to clean up anyway. He’s gonna smell like Yan’s armpit when he gets back.”

“He always does,” Ramsey agreed gravely.

Allison laughed, and nodded. “Fine,” she said. “But you know the rules. Devices off at eight, in bed by nine. If we get back and find you’re still awake, we won’t be trusting you like this again for a while. Fair?”

The twins nodded, and spoke as one. “Fair.”

Actually, an evening to themselves was a luxury all by itself, and not one that either of them felt like squandering if they could earn more later through good behavior. So, when Julian got home smelling of the jungle, Ramsey and Tristan were being model citizens and stayed out of the way as Al and Xiù bullied him through the shower and into his nice clothes.

They’d ordered a few more sets from Halberstadt’s. After all, now that they had his measurements…The boys had been proud to work out a smart-casual look for him. It was kinda old-fashioned but in a way that never went out of style. ‘Conservative,’ Xiù called it.

“How do they fit?”

“…Pretty good.” Julian rolled his neck and fidgeted with his tie. “Maybe not as good as the first time…”

“They said you need to get them adjusted sometimes since you’re training so hard, but that’s no big deal. And the casual stuff has a looser cut, so it won’t be so fiddly.”

“Never thought I’d have pre-teen fashion consultants…so, do I look good?”

Xiù answered for them. “You’ll do. Now come on! I’m getting hungry.”

And…that was it. There was another reminder from Allison about trust and stuff, but for just about the first time ever the brothers found themselves alone in the house without adult supervision.

They picked out a movie that was too old for them because of course they were going to. And they raided the fridge for snacks a couple of times, and maybe pushed their luck on bedtime a little because it was a pretty good movie…

…And woke up when Julian woke them both up. They’d dozed off on the couch.

“Aren’t you two supposed to be asleep?”

“…Technically, we were?” Tristan ventured.

“Heh. Rules lawyer. Better get up to bed before the girls find their way inside…”

“Right. ‘Night, Dad.”


By the time Ramsey noticed he’d said it again, he was already in bed.

Date Point: 16y3m1w
Folctha, Cimbrean, the Far Reaches

Adam Arés

“You’re home late!”

Marty was on the couch, reading a book. Adam gave her a smile and snuck a look at the cover as he kicked his sandals off. It wasn’t a childcare book. The cover was way too provocative. And she was wearing a lingerie bathrobe, the red silk-and-lace one that showed off her legs.

“Rescue mission!” He declared happily. He’d been looking forward to seeing her ever since he’d finished leaving Firth in a groaning heap on the mat. He was in decidedly worse shape than Adam, who felt merely well-exercised and invigorated, but he had Crude, and a wife and child to go home to.

Speaking of which…

Marty made her exasperated laugh when he bounced across the room, picked her up and smashed her into a close cuddly snuggle.

“This your idea of hello?” she asked as he sat down with her on his lap.

He kissed her neck. “Yup.”

“Aww, and you even showered for me. You’re such a romantic.”

“That’s me!” He chuckled, and gave her a squeeze. “Where’s Diego?”

“Asleep. Should be conked out for the rest of the evening…” She stretched like a satisfied cat in his arms, then laughed. “…Did you smuggle a softball bat home, or are you just happy to see me?”

“It’s been a good day. I think Firth’s finally starting to get it.” He nipped playfully at her ear. “How was yours?”

“Not bad…” she squirmed and turned around to face him and straddled his lap. She grinned at him up close, rubbed her nose against his, then leaned forward to whisper in his ear. “…Except I’ve been super horny all day…”

He grinned, and moved to pick her up and carry her to the bedroom over his shoulder, but she stopped him with a shake of the head and a tap on the nose.

“Nuh-uh,” she said. “I wanna take charge.” Her hand snuck down between their bodies as she kissed him, and the other one took his wrist and guided him up her leg and under the silk… She wasn’t wearing anything else.

Adam rumbled contentedly as he put his fingers to work. “Oh? That’s new for you…”

She made a soft noise, bit her lip and shut her eyes for a second, not replying. Adam wasn’t ashamed to admit he knew exactly what he was doing, but damn. She was ready.

Time for a little fun. “You sure you wanna take charge?” He emphasized his point with a little trick he’d learned years ago. “You don’t seem like you’re much in control just now…”

She finally managed to free him from his shorts, and didn’t bother with foreplay at all. “Ohgodshutup…seriously. Just…” she rose up and gasped as she sank down onto him in one smooth, long and drawn-out motion. “…Just…”

How could he possibly refuse? He put his hands around her waist and let her have her way.

Not long after, she let him have his. He had a lot more energy to burn off so things weren’t over quickly, or all at once. Few women could handle him no matter how ready, but Marty had always been an all-star. Hell, she even managed to tire him out. He finally had his fill many hours later, sometime long after midnight, when she flopped lazily across his chest and listened contentedly to the rain on the window for a few minutes before speaking, low and quiet and blissfully.

“…I really needed that.”

Adam chuckled smugly, and kissed her possessively. “I could sorta tell.”

She turned her head and grinned at him. “…Think that’s baby number two? I hope so.”

“Oh, is that what this was about?!” he laughed. “…Yeah. That’d be nice.”

“Good. ‘Cuz I asked Gabe and Jess to look after Diego for the weekend. They’ll be here to pick him up in a few hours, and you owe them one of your famous breakfasts.”

Adam chuckled, “Well, it’s the least I could do, I guess…”

She nipped playfully at the end of his nose. “Oh, I won’t accept the least you can do. You’ve got a mission, mister!”

“I like this mission.” In fact, he felt himself warming up to the mission already! “And you know how seriously I take missions…”

She laughed, bt sadly she reached for the blankets instead of going for another round. Adam couldn’t blame her, really. Marty was as strong and limber as a circus performer, but she had her limits just like everyone else. She needed to rest. And so did he, come to that.

That was okay. Morning would come soon enough.

Date Point: 16y3m1w
Wi Kao City, Planet Gao

Daar, Great Father of the Gao

The word ‘Court, in the legal sense, had once referred to a Clan leadership’s court, where the Clan’s Grandfather and Champion would receive petitioners from their Clan’s lands, hear their grievances and sit in judgement.

Modern Gao had moved beyond that a long time ago. After Fyu and the founding of the Clan of Females, there had been the Great Reform, the shift to Clans-as-specialists rather than Clans-as-barons. The Law had taken generations to figger out, generations more before it started being really fair on Clan and Clanless alike…

…There was a lotta history in the last thousand years.

Clan courts now mostly regulated their guilds, or made law on the sortsa things a Clan was pretty much in charge of. The only Clan court that was still really a court was Straightshield.

But now, in this age of a Great Father, the old kinda court was back. Because sometimes, somebody needed ‘ta cut right through the Naxas shit. In the absence of a Supreme Court…or anything that could legitimize such a thing…that duty fell to Daar.

Daar didn’t like sittin’ in some bigass throne in High Mountain Fortress with the crown on top o’ his head, ‘least if he could help it. If he was gonna be royalty, an’ it was pretty much indisputable that he was now, then he was at least gonna be the kind of king…or emperor…whatever. Anyway. He was gonna try and be as real as he could. That meant visiting where the problems were, instead of dragging them all the way up to the northern plains.

There were a couple o’ good reasons for that. The first being it kept him sane, and it made him more approachable. After all, he had absolute power over every gaoian and that was…scary. For everyone. Best if he could lessen the threat a little.

…The other reason was if it was a serious problem, it was easier to act on, too. He’d gotten his claws bloody more than once ‘cuz of that.

The problem in this case was a project dispute. Records had got destroyed in the war, the ones that were left didn’t match, two Clanless guilds—old rivals who’d been competing with each other in the claw-throat world of big inter-Clan civil works for hundreds of years—both claimed they were the legitimate holders of a work contract…

So far so mundane.

What made it worth Daar’s attention was the scale. The guilds were huge, and the contract was even more huger: to literally rebuild the entire continental rail network. That meant decades of work, mind-spinning wealth and resources, colossal prestige and the future prosperity of the Gaoian economy. The guild that won the contract would probably be a Clan in fifty years. The one that didn’t might go bankrupt and disband, with everything that meant for hundreds or mebbe thousands of workers.

Besides, if there was one thing Daar loved (besides fuckin’, fightin’, farmin’ an’ friends, in no particular order) it was big honkin’ civil engineering projects.

Too bad the two guild leaders were both completely failing to hide their abject terror.

Guilds could be big and influential, sure. These two were, an’ the two well-seasoned and scarred males in charge of them weren’t pushovers, but Clans and Great Fathers were whole different leagues of power. Two swaggering fish who’d gotten used to bein’ the biggest an’ meanest fish in their ponds had just bumped up against somethin’ a lot bigger an’ more dangerous, an’ it was lookin’ at them.

The funny part was, the two could’ve been biological siblings. They even smelled pretty similar, both wearing that same baked-in scent of hard work and construction sites, concrete an’ steel an’ rubber an’ solvent. They did similar things, ran similar guilds…and were bitter, remorseless rivals. They had to be, it was the only way to compete.

Shit, in the old days a dispute like this woulda led to a real, deadly fight. Winner takes all. Might still end up in a duel, too. But the Females discouraged that, and so did Daar: there weren’t enough Gao left ‘ta waste that way, not when there were more civilized options.

But he weren’t gonna get nowhere if they were too scared’a him ‘ta make their case properly. It didn’t matter that he’d come to them, and this meeting was happening in the rec hall in the neutral territory of an unaffiliated guild’s workhouse. It didn’t matter he’d left the crown where it belonged in High Mountain Fortress…

None o’ that really mattered. Daar was fuckin’ terrifyin’ in person an’ he knew it, even more so ‘cuz of his wartime reputation. He sighed, and decided he needed to actually address that big ol’ boulder in the road.

“Guys, I’m not gonna fuckin’ murder ‘ya where ‘ya stand. This is a contract dispute. Relax.”

“S-sorry, My Father.”

That was the slightly meeker of the two guildmasters, Gojo. Ruthless businessman, but right now as nervy an’ twitchy as a long-tailed cub in a workshop. He was also tiny and Daar was…not. That psychology were just impossible ‘ta get around. Mighta been on purpose in the Hierarchy’s design, too.


“Look. Pretend ‘fer a second I’m jus’ some dumb ‘Back lookin’ ‘ta contract wit’ y’all. Lemme ask ‘ya this: would I? This seems like a pretty nasty dispute, yijao?”

“We’ve tried being civil about this, My Father,” the other guildmaster, Fer, assured him. “We’re still trying. But no matter what we do, we can’t actually prove that the contract was awarded to us and not them.”

“And we’re certain that it was awarded to us,” Gojo repeated.

“Wait just a–!”

“Stop,” Daar growled. He hadn’t meant it as anything more than the kind o’ annoyance a Mother got when two cubs were bickerin’ over a ball, but both of them promptly went very small and quiet and submissive.

Nine times out of ten, bein’ the biggest and the baddest was the bestest. That one time it weren’t though, more than paid the price.

“Gods damnit you two, fuckin’ relax! I ain’t gonna fuckin’ eat ‘ya! If I’d been that kind o’ mad, believe me ya’d know.” Daar grumbled to himself, then chittered ruefully. “I mean, this ain’t a duel to the death! An’ I ain’t gonna make ‘ya my wrasslin’ dummies, neither. I promise. This is just a legal dispute. So, y’know. Prol’ly worse.”

The Gao had an…organic relationship with the Law. Unlike a Human monarchy, the Law didn’t flow from Daar’s person. Unlike a republic, it didn’t flow from the body politic, either. Instead, it was a mish-mash of regional customary law, common law decisions by Judge-Fathers, Clan law and what were basically treaties between them. Oh, and edicts from Daar now, too. Little of it was written down, either. At least…not all in one place, anyway.

So basically, Gaoian law was jus’ stupidly complex, an’ everyone could poke fun at it. Which when he thought about it, was probably pretty weird from a Human’s perspective.

Still meant he could break the ice with a joke, though. Both of the guildmasters chittered nervously, but at least there was progress bein’ made.

“…As you say, My Father.”

“Damn right I do! Mebbe y’all think it’d be less painful if I’d jus’ sit on ‘ya and end it, huh?”

Darr poured on the charm and flashed them the friendliest pant-grin he could manage. It were prol’ly still kinda scary given the size of his everything an’ them just bein’ scrappy lil’ second-degrees an’ all…but he got bit more chittering this time, so progress was being made.

“Anyway,” he assured, “I hereby promise no harm will come to ‘ya or ‘yer guilds, by my paw or otherwise, unless we find a crime. An’ by crime, I mean somethin’ pretty damn serious. I ain’t gonna personally intervene ‘cuz one’a you two were speeding, or whatever. Got it?”

The two guildmasters looked at each other. “Yes, My Father.” They did seem a bit more relaxed.

“Good! Now, back to the relevant bit ‘cuz I ain’t never got time ‘ta spare. How are you both so convinced?” he asked. Daar looked to his legal aide. “There’s no public records ‘fer this?”

“No, My Father. Sister Imi was…thorough.”

“Not even an adjudicated entry in Goldpaw’s Uniform Contract Registry?”

“No, My Father. That system was apparently singled out during the War by the Hierarchy. Every copy of much of that database has been destroyed.”


“…Yes, My Father.”

“Right.” Daar grumbled and shook his pelt out, then turned back to the guildmasters. “That sorta makes ‘yer mutual certainty less an assertion o’ fact an’ more an’ article o’ faith, don’t it?”

Fer ducked his head respectfully. “I personally received a clear assurance from Officer Muki of Clan Goldpaw, My Father. He said he was certain we’d be hearing from—”

“That’s just a Goldpaw bein’ friendly an’ polite. An’ it’s a lot less than actually winning the contract,” Daar pointed out. “I’d bet Gojo got somethin’ similar, didn’tcha?”

Gojo flicked an ear. “…Yes, My Father.”

“Right.” Daar duck-nodded solemnly. “So here’s my problem. Both’a you smell perfectly honest. That means ‘ya both either genuinely believe ‘yer tellin’ the truth, or at least one’a you is a fuckin’ master liar, an’ I can smell through a Whitecrest’s bullshit. So, we’ve got ourselves a trust issue, don’t we? You might not be lyin’, but somebody is. Ain’t that so?”

Gojo duck-nodded tentatively. “…Yes, My Father.”

“So, now. Let’s explore what that’s gonna mean. If ‘ya wanna have me get ‘ta the bottom o’ this, I’m gonna need ‘ta haul all ‘yer workhouse leadership in here and get thorough. An’ that means, if I find something it’s gonna expose a pretty serious deception involvin’ my money, an’ a lotta monies from several really powerful Clans. Do you understand what that means?”

The two guild leaders glanced at each other. Both controlled dozens of workhouses each, and Fyu-knew-how-many workers, clerks, legal experts, accountants, engineers. Each definitely would have a few sneaky little squeakers in their number who had all the right qualities for a Whitecrest except for that Clan’s intense sense of honor. Daar’s people could turn up anything.

The threat was so well understood that Daar never had to actually speak it aloud.

“On the other hand,” Daar continued, “I’m not personally interested in grindin’ old grudges inta’ dust. I’m more interested in that railroad gettin’ rebuilt. Which would go way damn easier if ‘yer workhouses found a way ta’ share the work…wouldn’t it? An’ I s’pose I’ll just make it clear…I wouldn’t need ‘ta be literally sniffin’ in all y’all’s business an’ sharin’ it ‘fer everyone ‘ta see. An’ as ‘fer th’ rest…well, y’know. I definitely don’t wanna see that happen. D’you?”

“…No, My Father.” Fer agreed.

“Good! So I think I’mma let y’all figger out somethin’ nice an’ agreeable, get that contract entered, an’ we can all make a big pile o ’money and advance the interests o’ the Gao. Err’body wins. I like it when err’body wins, don’t you?”

The two guildmasters glanced at each other, then duck-nodded in unison.

“Yes, My Father,” they chorused.

“Exactly. Now git to it! My investment staff’ll be waitin’ to git ‘er dun. Dismissed.”

The two made their obeisances and escaped, as respectfully as they possibly could.

“Right!” Daar stretched, yawned, and shook himself. “Well. Is that all for today?”

Tiyun checked his tablet. “…Yes, My Father. The local docket quite mysteriously cleaned itself up once it was known you would show up for today…”

Daar chittered mirthlessly. “A whole lotta handshakes an’ quiet settlements, huh?”


“Well, good ta’ know bein’ a fuckin’ terror has some uses…” Daar grumbled, but as always, cheered up in quick order. “Okay! That means I can get in a workout an’ a walkabout, then. You can take a load off ‘fer the rest o’ the day, Tiyun. After ‘ya get ‘yer liftin’ in!”

“Some females appreciate a more svelte look, My Father…”

Daar scoffed and stood up. “Yer’ tellin’ me what females appreciate?”

“Some appreciate more refined scents, too!”

“Yeah, yeah…but get ‘yer liftin’ in anyway. You ain’t gotta be huge but you do gotta keep up.”

Tiyun chittered and put the tablet away. “As you say, My Father. Enjoy your walkabout.”

Daar insisted on his walkabouts. They were a kind of freedom, even though he knew they were a pain in the tail for his protection team. And the thing was…

…The thing was, powerful Gao like Fer and Gojo were scared as shit of the Great Father, but regular workin’ guys who just got through their day from meal to meal and payday to payday weren’t half so nervous. Deferential an’ wary of the most biggest ‘Back ever for sure, but that weren’t so bad. Balls, Daar were the same way when he was growin’ up, when’ Garl had seemed so huge an’ scary…


He buried a stab of melancholy. Garl had refused to even go near an Openpaw hospice. Didn’t matter none that his body was givin’ up on him fast, or that the Openpaw nurses knew how to help an old Gao keep his dignity to the very end. Garl had a diff’rent idea of what dignity meant. And it sure as shit didn’t mean a sterile, comfortable home kitted out for easy navigation by blind eyes.

He was mostly to be found in the Grand Garden at High Mountain fortress, burning sweet herb and telling stories to visiting cubs. No wrasslin’ though, no matter how much they begged. He was blind after all, an’ accidentally squashing a cub to death wouldn’t be a great way to go.

…Daar would probably be just as difficult when his end finally came. Many decades from now, prol’ly…maybe even more with the Corti on their side lately…balls.

…But! That was a long, long way away! ‘Fer now, he’d be the best he could be. Sometimes that meant bein’ a fierce Great Father. Sometimes it meant bein’ a playful ‘Back.

An’ only he could know when to be which.

Date Point: 16y3m1w

Emergency Hierarchy Session #UNLOGGED



++0004++: We’re all here? Roll call.


++0004++: Good. Agent 0024, your findings?

++0024++: Agent Proximal was restored from backup per session 1773 orders. On decompilation/interrogation, the following data were recovered: <File attached>

++0024++: Critical finding: Proximal had suspicions about the Irujzen Relay for some time prior to his disappearance. He further had suspicions about 0006/Cynosure. His specific concerns: That 0006/Cynosure may be experiencing executive decomposition, value drift and ego fixation. I forwarded my findings to Agent 0017.

++0017++: A petition was made to access a 0006/Cynosure archive mindstate for purposes of decompilation/interrogation. Permission was granted by Agents 0004 and 0005. Upon access, the archived mindstate was found to be unusable. The presenting code and superficial interaction layers were intact, but the executive, memory and personality code was all junk. Agent 0005 then assumed command of the investigation.

++0005++: Deep inspection of 0006/Cynosure’s personal documents revealed that they don’t exist. His most recent valid file entry is from the day before he was first assigned to operations on Earth, prior to his capture. Everything after that point has been carefully replaced. The forgeries are authentic enough to pass automated monitoring, but on careful reading contain zero intelligible content. Conclusion: he’s been lying to us for years. Very successfully, I might add.

++0017++: And, presumably, operating off an unverified and unchecked backup system for years, too.

++0005++: Now for the truly damning revelation: His post-recovery evaluation was faked. It was ostensibly logged by Agent 0007.

++0007++: I have no memory of making such an evaluation. I therefore submitted to a partial decompilation and memory inspection.

++0005++: I found extensive tampering. The investigation concludes that 0006/Cynosure should be categorized as Class 1 Malignant. The full charge sheet and evidence is as follows: <File attached>

++0005++: I also move that all identified Cabal members be categorized as Class 2 Malignant by association.

++0004++: Deliberate and vote.





++0004++: <Orders> The instant we close this session, we are going to attack every Cabal member on contact. Code: TERMINATESALVAGESCOUR. 0006/Cynosure is priority target 1. Hierarchy agents of rank ≥ 0025 are subject to code SUSPECTISOLATEOVERWATCH. Integrated Hegemony mindstates are subject to immediate isolation and interrogation. Non-Igraen mindstates are to be destroyed on contact. Code: ERASEDISCARDINCINERATE. Are these orders clear and understood?


++0004++: Good luck, everyone.

++0004++: Go.


Previous Chapter

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Sweetness – Love and Kiing (NSFW)

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Good Training – April Fool’s

13y 3m 29d AV One-Fang workhouse, Alien Quarter, Folctha, Cimbrean, the Far Reaches Sergeant Regaari (Dexter) of Clan SOR One of the best things about the humans was that they had a springtime holiday dedicated to mischief. Before them, only the Gao could claim to celebrate such a thing and it was one of the

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 52: Autoimmune Part 1

Date Point: 16y2m AV Alien Quarter, Folctha, Cimbrean, the Far Reaches Nofl Nofl’s lab was spacious, but inevitably finite. When it contained an alarming number of alarmed Humans, not to mention one particularly sculpted canine and a Gaoian brownie who was doing his best not to loom at everyone… well, there were times when Nofl

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 51: Anticlimax Part 5

Date Point: 16y2m AV Folctha, Cimbrean, the Far Reaches Allison Buehler After a lifetime of helicopter parenting, Tristan and Ramsey seemed addicted to every opportunity they could find to do something their mother would have scooted them away from. And who could blame them? Amanda had never managed to get her head around the idea

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Rising Titans – Chapter 44

9 Years, 6 Months, 28 Days After Eridani Landing Deep Space The Russia shuddered again as the engines slowly powered down and the ship slid out of the red blue haze that was the tachyon FTL corridor. James blinked several times trying to clear the haze from his eyes as the regular black background of

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 51: Anticlimax Part 4

Date Point: 16y1m AV Dataspace adjacent to Mrwrki Station Entity The Entity understood the concept of boredom in an academic, abstract way. It could even vaguely summon up Ava’s memories of being bored. But understanding the idea and actually feeling the emotion were two different things. The closest it could get was the sensation of

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 51: Anticlimax Part 3

Date Point: 16y2w AV Air Force One, somewhere over Asia, Earth President Arthur Sartori “…You want to give us a Farthrow generator.” Daar’s image was janky and low-resolution thanks to the vagaries of current wormhole comms, but the audio was a lot clearer now. Technology marched onwards. “It’s loaded up on a train and ready

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Good Training – Pecking Order

13y, 8m AV Operator’s Barracks, HMS Sharman, Folctha, Cimbrean Officer Regaari (Dexter) of Clan Whitecrest “I got an idea, Regaari.” Regaari flicked his ears forward in annoyance. “This again?” “Well, yeah. I gotta win that bet, Cousin!” Regaari duck-nodded wearily. Not long after Daar had received the SACRED STRANGER briefing, he’d sulked off to think

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Good Training – The Champions – Tidying Up

Messier 24 Mission day: 3 Sergeant Daar (Tigger) The third day was always when things settled into routine. Daar didn’t really know why, ‘cuz that was prol’ly some complicated psychology stuff (maybe he should read up?) but he did know how it worked, practically speaking. Daar always pondered morning thoughts like that when he was

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 51: Anticlimax Part 2

Date Point: 16y2w AV Weaver dropship, Gaoian space Sergeant Ian “Hillfoot” Wilde “So in all the excitement, we clean forgot about these things. That’s what you’re telling me.” Champion Meereo made a sound that was half a sigh and half a chitter. “…That’s more-or-less exactly right, yes. We had… well, bigger priorities.” Wilde had to

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Rising Titans – Chapter 43

9 Years, 6 Months, 28 Days After Eridani Landing Bellona “Ready?” asked Alpha from where he sat on top of the Captain’s chair. “I’m good!” said Red from where he sat at the controls for the ship. It hadn’t taken much to convince him to pilot the vessel. James glanced down at his own console

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 51: Anticlimax Part 1

Date Point: 16y AV Yukon–Koyukuk, Alaska, USA, Earth Zane Reid The cold didn’t hurt anymore. At first, it had been like forcing his way through a wall made of knives that cut through his clothes. Zane’s every breath had blinded him as it billowed and steamed in the air, and when he’d experimentally licked his

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 50: Counterattack – Trigger Part 5

Date Point: 16y AV Camp Tebbutt Biodrone Internment Facility, Yukon–Koyukuk, Alaska, USA, Earth Hugh Johnson Snow. Of course, snow in January in Alaska was hardly surprising, and this one threatened to be heavy. At first, Hugh had thought it was probably just an seasonable dusting that’d add a couple of inches to the foot or

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I had made my way through the tournament, but most of my matches had been won by the skin of my teeth, and I had only the advantage of being evolved from a pursuit predator to thank for it. Our great endurance had been the one boon that had kept me going, and I was

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 50: Counterattack – Trigger Part 4

Date Point: 15y 10m 1w AV HMS Violent, Rvzrk System, Domain Space The ground battle churned on for days. That was the problem with Hunters. There was no surrender involved, it was a kill-or-be-killed fight where smashing their will to engage in war simply didn’t achieve enough. Any Hunter left alive would just keep murdering

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Good Training – The Champions – Doom and Gloom Part 4

He awoke to a pleasant smell. “…Eggs?” Hoeff detangled himself from Natalie and the sheets and stumbled towards the kitchen. Daar was busy in front of the comparatively little stove and fridge, humming some terrible Gaoian tune to himself. Seriously, their music was like Chinese opera with extra pain. Some Humans liked it, though…but “atonal”

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Rising Titans – Chapter 42

9 Years, 6 Months, 15 Days After Eridani Landing The [Singer] The explosion hit and [Vann] watched at the lights on the main hologram and different panels flashed a blinding white light, before dying and plunging the entire bridge of the [Singer] into darkness. “What were we supposed to do?” asked someone near the weapons

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Day 1. I’ve made it on board the human trading vessel! They didn’t detect my presence, and I’ve managed to smuggle myself into their engineering bay, and disguised myself within a cluster of cables! My small, serpentine body makes me indistinguishable from a thin, grayish cable, and the Humans won’t notice my existence until it

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 50: Counterattack – Trigger Part 1

Date Point: 15y 10m AV Camp Tebbutt Biodrone Internment Facility, Yukon–Koyukuk, Alaska, USA, Earth Hugh Johnson Camp Tebbutt wasn’t actually a bad place to live, if you didn’t count the fact that it was essentially a prison for innocent victims. Hugh understood why he was there, and why he couldn’t leave… but after eleven years,

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Good Training – The Champions – Doom and Gloom Part 3

Firth Regaari chittered, “It is difficult to imagine you ‘humbled,’ Righteous.” “Heh,” Firth chuckled. “You do know most of my attitude is straight fuckin’ bullshit, right? Adam and John know why.” Regaari looked over at John, who shrugged massively. “He’s a scary dude. Being ridiculous kinda takes the edge off, y’know?” Regaari duck-nodded. He was

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Rising Titans – Chapter 41

9 Years, 6 Months, 13 Days After Eridani Landing Jikse Moving down the hallway Diana paused at the double doors, carefully she moved forwards into it’s threshold and they slid open. A woman in an orange smock looked up from her Comm for a moment, and then going back to look at it did a

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The Good Samaritan

I felt a white-hot pain in my back as I was stabbed. Once, twice and then three times. I fell to the ground clutching my new openings, and for a moment I couldn’t grasp what had just happened. I had walked through an alley as a shortcut back home, and then suddenly someone had grabbed

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 50: Counterattack – Homefront Part 6

Date Point: 15y9m3w AV Mrwrki Station, Erebor System, Unexplored Space Darcy “Does it seem… different to you lately?” “What?” “The Entity. It’s actin’ different, dude, I swear it is.” Darcy sighed and set aside her work as Lewis sat down. She was sitting drinking a Moroccan Mint tea in the station’s rec lounge, with its

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Rising Titans – Chapter 40

9 Years, 6 Months, 13 Days After Eridani Landing Jikse Popping the restraints off of her legs Diana swung herself off of the table, the two class A’s still in their isolation suits were pounding at the door of the room the three of them were in. “It’s out! Open the door!” shouted the man

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Good Training – The Champions – Doom and Gloom Part 2

Master Sergeant Christian (Righteous) Firth The end of the movie came and the ladies were fast asleep and prolly too tired to head home with any comfort. The other bros were asleep, too, and Firth was tangled up with them pretty good. Oh well, both ‘Base and ‘Horse were heavy-ass sleepers and only danger or

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Hell. It’s a completely Human concept. The concept of a realm of eternal torture, to which you are sent depending on the whims of one deity or another, is something only found in Human fiction. And it’s not an isolated occurrence. Almost every human culture since the dawn of humanity itself has had it in

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 50: Counterattack – Homefront Part 4

Date Point: 15y9m2w AV HMS Sharman (HMNB Folctha), Cimbrean, The Far Reaches Senior Master Sergeant Christian (“Righteous”) Firth “Hey, fuckers! Guess what hit the newsstand today!” Adam looked up from his needlework for a second and raised an eyebrow. “Imma guess Coombes’ centerfold spread with Ava?” Firth deflated, somewhat flummoxed that ‘Horse had stolen his

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